About a year ago VI reggae trailblazers Midnite suddenly cancelled a U.S. tour and stated the reason being “a life changing medical emergency, convictions and revelations”.
Somewhat cryptic, but then again Midnite and their front man and vocalist Vaughn Benjamin have never been interested in the spotlight unless being on stage. He rarely gives interviews and rather study or writes and records music.
Later a new outfit surfaced, a band led by Vaughn Benjamin. Akae Beka is their name and it’s taken from the Book of Enoch. Akae Beka first stage performance took place in October last year and their debut album Homage to the Land was soon put out.
Now their second set has dropped. This one on I Grade Records, a Virgin Islands’ based label that has been an important partner to Midnite in their career. The label is spearheaded by Tippy I and the new Akae Beka album is produced by Zion I Kings, a production trio where Tippy I plays a key part.
In the press release accompanying Portals it’s stated that Akae Beka isn’t Midnite reborn, but a continuation of Vaughn Benjamin’s journey. Fans can however stay calm since this album both musically and lyrically lie very close to what Midnite did.
This is spiritual and Rastafarian roots reggae with conscious and introspective lyrics emphasizing commitment to Jah, justice, equality and universal love.
Vaughn Benjamin’s vocal approach is an acquired taste. It’s raw, monotonous and non-melodic. His vocal style is in need of an otherwise melodic sonic landscape. Otherwise it’s too raw. Luckily Zion I Kings have provided Akae Beka with heavily-textured arrangements and melodies from the players of instruments, but without failing to include dense grooves and hypnotic bass lines. The horns on Orderly are for example sublime and the guitar work is superb throughout the set.
Portals is powerful and spellbinding. It might not be commercially viable, but it’s memorable and mesmerizing.
Multi-facetted Virgin Islands born singer and singjay Pressure is back with a new album following Coming Back for You, produced by Dean Pond and released in 2009.
On The Sound he has teamed up with the mighty Zion I Kings, a trio of producers including Tippy I, who also hails from the Virgin Islands.
The Sound is Pressure’s fourth album and is his best to date. It includes the usual sweet arrangements and backing provided by Zion I Kings, but a few of the cuts are dark and edgy, for example Herbsman Town, Serious About It and Who You Are, a track that also offers a taste of wobbling dubstep.
The Sound is a family affair and a host of Pressure’s fellow countrymen flex their skills on a number of songs. Ras Batch and NiyoRah show up on Cry for Humanity and Volcano shares vocal duties with Pressure on Herbsman Town. And no other than Midnite’s lead singer Vaughn Benjamin can be heard on Nothing No Wrong.
A majority of the album was also recorded in St. Croix, for example the uplifting Virgin Islands Nice, a cut that is now an official tourist board anthem. Maybe no surprise when listening to the chorus – “so nice, so nice, sweet, sweet St. Thomas nice, so nice, so nice, St. Croix full of pure vibes, so nice, so nice, St. John a real paradise, so nice, so nice.”
The Sound exemplifies the strong roots and culture scene active in the Virgin Islands and even though Pressure delivered a strong set together with Don Corleon in 2007, The Sound outshines his previous material and will hopefully strengthen his fan base.
New Scroll is the new album by foundation Jamaican singer Cornell “Original Gorgon” Campbell. In a press release it’s describes as “evoking that timeless sufferah’s sound and spirit of the golden era of Jamaican reggae within a treasure trove of original roots music”.
It boasts nine new songs penned by Cornell Campbell, as well as four dub mixes. New Scroll is furthermore described as injected with “the musicality and poetic flow that brought Campbell early and unparalleled success in the 1960s and 70s with solo recordings like the iconic Queen of the Minstrel or as a member of Jamaica’s most beloved harmony groups, the Eternals and the Uniques.”
The album bears Zion High Productions’ sweet sound crafted by the Zion I Kings production team – Jah D on bass representing Zion High Productions, I Grade Records’ Tippy I on keys and guitarist Moon, who co-founded the Lustre Kings label and is credited with writing on Snoop Lion’s debut album.
New Scroll hits the streets on CD and digital platforms on June 18.
The list of reggae artists hailing from the U.S. Virgin Islands is long and seems to get longer for each and every year. Army – a former soldier, saxophone player and one of the scene’s veterans – has recently put out his fifth album Dredlocks Time, a set produced by himself and Higher Bound Productions with mixing magic courtesy of illustrious producer Tippy I of I Grade Records.
Army is not one of the most well-known artists coming from this group of islands, but he has been remarkably consistent over the years. As many other reggae singers he started his career as a little youth in the church choir. Acclaimed producer Dean Pond helmed production on his 2000-released debut album Yesterday’s News, a set re-released a few years later.
This new 15 track set is a prime example of VI-reggae. The riddims are original, the tempo is slow, the mood is eerie, the lyrics are conscious and the atmosphere is meditative. Army’s voice is soothing and the harmonies are set to a minimum.
There is however a short detour from the VI-reggae recipe. On There is Life the tempo increases and the hip-hop flavored riddim is bouncy and electronic, on an album that’s mainly based on live-instrumentation, including some very nice horns arrangements.
Today Army has relocated to the U.S. mainland, but he has kept the VI reggae scene close his heart.
On Ras Batch’s seventh album Know Thyself he has teamed up with producer Laurent “Tippy I” Alfred from I Grade Records and the Zion I Kings, adding Andrew “Moon” Bain from Lustre Kings and David “Jah D” Goldfine from Zion High Productions to the team of arrangers and producers.
Ras Batch is a prolific figure in the rich and vibrant Virgin Islands reggae movement, and has via his label Sound V.I.Zion Records released albums from himself and others. Apart from running a label he is also a producer and a musician playing drums, keys and bass.
Know Thyself is an organic and crisply produced set with a handful of already classic Tippy I riddims, and includes Jamaican musicians Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace on drums, Dean Fraser on saxophone, Andrew “Bassie” Campbell on bass and Earl “Chinna” Smith on guitar.
Song titles such as Give Jah Thanks for Life, Trees and Dem Against Jah Rules tell of a strictly conscious affair dealing with topics such as religion, slavery, love and unity as well as environmental issues.
Ras Batch is a powerful exponent of contemporary roots reggae and has an honest and soaring tone in his voice. He occasionally lacks pitch control, something he makes up for in sincerity and emotional intensity.
Highlights include album opener Jah Children, something of an ode to nyabinghi drumming, Live Pray with its instant and memorable guitar hook courtesy of Chinna Smith and the first single Together, with a positive and infectious sing-a-long chorus.
Ras Batch might not be as well-known as fellow VI artists Pressure and Midnite, but with the rich and emotive Know Thyself he might be able to tell the world his story and put his name on the map.
Know Thyself is now available on CD and digital download.
Ethiopian brothers Noah and Medhane Tewolde are known as the vocal and multi-instrumentalist duo Nazarenes, a duo that has been based in Sweden for many years.
They established themselves in 2001 with their self-produced debut album Orit. Their breakthrough came three years later with the acclaimed set Songs of Life, a set followed by Rock Firm in 2008.
Now the Tewolde brothers are back. Back in full swing with an album produced by Tippy I of Virgin Islands-label I Grade, a label known for working closely with Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite.
The first collaboration between the Nazarenes and Tippy I was the single Everlasting which was included on the various artists’ compilation Joyful Noise put out in 2009.
On Meditation the Nazarenes have made an album that confirms just how great roots reggae can sound in 2012. Meditation is reggae in the same school as excellent vocal harmony groups like The Meditations or The Mighty Diamonds. And hearing these two brothers sing together is a soulful experience.
Meditation re-uses some of the riddims used for previous Tippy I productions, and if you’re familiar with Jahdan Blakkamoore’s Babylon Nightmare, Toussaint’s Black Gold or Perfect’s Back for the First Time you’ll most likely enjoy tunes such as Mamy Blues, Everlasting and Lonesome Lady.
But there are also a number of new riddims. The dreamy Alive is one such, Politrickcians, in a UK dub style, is another.
Several of the songs come close to pop and rock arrangements and Get Together will probably make Chris Martin of Coldplay proud with its catchy sing-a-long chorus. It sounds like it’s made for playing at large festivals or stadiums.
The Nazarenes might have a long way until they’ve achieved a following as big as Coldplay, but if Noah and Medhane Tewolde keep making music as good as Meditation it’s just a matter of time until they play at Glastonbury or Madison Square Garden.